Dealing with L&D failure

Today I’ve been in a good bit of chat with Neil Denny, who thought that a session he was running didn’t go according to plan. As L&Ders this kind of thing happens. Not every session we’re going to deliver is going to be the bees knees of training sessions. I remember early in my career having to deliver a workshop on a new competency framework to a group of engineers. I was confident I could do it, but wasn’t prepared for the level of challenge I received. I tanked. Hard.

I remember a session I was delivering to a group of production line operators on Diversity and Dignity at Work. It was a tough session because one of the people in the session took issue with the content (as did most people on most sessions to be honest), and the style of my delivery. It was a hard session because I was arguing with that one person for most of the session even though I didn’t want to. I was defending the material.

I also remember a session I was running on Coaching skills and didn’t prepare for it properly. I learned a lot from that session. The people attending felt like they learned little, I didn’t facilitate it properly, and ended up having less of a useful session than I had envisaged. I was banking on being a good facilitator to be able to wing it in the session. What I forgot was you always have to plan, even if you’re facilitating and having discussion based approach.

What do we do as L&Ders when this happens? How do we pick ourselves up and ensure that next time we don’t make that mistake? Well, here’s what I do. I think it’s useful and helps me go through a process of being thorough in my assessment of what went wrong.

Content is king. This is true of any learning event being delivered. It’s also true of all presentations and marketing activity. Well, it’s true of communication. But coming back to the learning event, you have to first have a look at the content of your session. Are you covering the right stuff? Have you got a clear structure? Is it being aimed at the right level? Do you need to add more? Do you need to remove stuff? Have you included exercises? Is there space for discussion in the session? Are there clear learning objectives? Is there a proper wrap and summary?

Delivery is an art. We practise what we do time and again hoping to hone our craft of delivering a message, create engagement with it, and hope it does an effective job of imparting learning. We use presentation skills, facilitation skills, discussions, exercises, and a range of visual aids to help us deliver the message. If it’s been a bad session, we have to look at ourselves first and foremost. The content may be stellar stuff, but if it’s being badly delivered, then we’re all in trouble. Have I listened to the group? Have I heard their expectations? Have I spotted signs of discontent and reacted? Have I had the right feedback on the session in advance in order that I can deliver a good message?

The room and environment you’re working in has a direct impact on the learning that takes place. If it’s in a room where there are wires coming out of the floor, a projector being balanced on books, and little to no space to move around (all true and I’ve had to deliver in this), it only makes your job harder as an L&Der. Where possible, control the space you are going to work in. Do the chairs need to be set in a certain way? If flipcharts are required or need to be used, where are they positioned? Do you have the right tables? Have you provided paper and pens for people to write with? If it’s an option, are refreshments being made available, and if they are, how will they be provided and when?

Learning outcomes matter. You have to know what you’re aiming to achieve from the session. Equally, you have to know what the people attending want to learn. Even more important, you have to know the learning outcomes are in line with the purpose of the session from the sponsor. Arguably this should be up the front. But I’m not claiming this is an order of events, so go with it. If people are clear about what you are and not covering, they’ll be able to have better clarity on what the learning outcomes will be.

People matter! Well, you have to have people attending. I hate calling them ‘delegates’, or ‘attendees’, or ‘participants’. They’re people. But are the right people attending? Has someone been asked to attend the training that it just isn’t appropriate for? On too many occasions did I have to turn people away from training before the event because they weren’t ever going to be able to use the skills they were going to learn.

Group and people dynamics matter. If you’re ok with the right people being there, then you have to know how to deal with them. The fun thing about people is that they can always be counted on to be unique. I can’t predict how a group is going to behave anymore than I can know how my children will behave. What I can do though is be mindful of behaviours being displayed, discussions being had, influence being exerted, engagement from the group, all of which tell me what the dynamics of the group are.

Who knew being an L&Der would mean that I have to be aware of so much and exercise my mind in such different ways? Well, it’s what I enjoy in this career of mine. When things go well and when they don’t, there’s always something to learn. Ultimately it will help make me a better L&Der. How awesome is that?

On Friday 17th August I’m running an event called Positive Psychology in Application. It’s going to cover a range of topics to do with Positive Psychology. Book now to attend and learn more.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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